Why Does Becoming a Mom Mean Potentially Losing Your Job?

Washington State’s Failure to Mandate Paid Parental Leave Hurts Gender Equity, Parents, and Kids

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

My best friend from graduate school and I will both become first-time mothers this year. As a citizen of Ireland, my friend will be able to stay home with her baby for almost a year and then return to her present career path. As an American state employee, I can either stay home with my child or maintain my current career trajectory—and I’m one of the lucky ones because I get to actually make a choice.

Irish law includes a “maternity benefit” that pays 80 percent of wages to new mothers during the first 26 weeks after birth, and can begin two weeks before birth if needed. An additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave is optional. In the United States, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires that employers grant only 12 weeks of leave to new mothers, and payment of wages during this time is decided state by state. Only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island offer paid leave; Washington State passed a law in 2007 requiring paid leave for new parents, but it hasn’t gone into effect because it lacks funding.

If I don’t want to leave my baby at three months of age to go back to work, I will give up my job in—ironically—global health and look for work again once my child goes to school. And to my knowledge, none of the places where I currently freelance, including The Stranger, offer paid maternity leave or anything beyond the federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid time off. In a part of the country where global-health work is incredibly competitive and underfunded, I’ll most likely be scraping the bottom of the barrel to get back into the workforce. But my Irish friend will be able to jump back into her field with the seniority and security she’s built up over the last 10 years since we graduated and parted ways.

Numerous studies prove that women who receive paid maternity leave are more likely to return to their jobs, thereby remaining contributing, upwardly mobile members of the workforce, so why is the United States the sole industrialized country in the world that doesn’t mandate some amount of paid leave?

Full Story: The Stranger »

Mother is calling on Gov. Inslee to fund paid maternity leave (Video)

Rebecca Valley, a new mom who works as an Administrative Assistant in Everett, is calling on Governor Jay Inslee to fund paid maternity leave. When she gave birth 11 months ago to her daughter Matilda, Rebecca planned to use her three weeks of paid time off to care for her newborn. She ended up needing to take an additional two weeks of unpaid leave because of an unexpected C-section. Then she went back to work – before she or Matilda were ready – in order to pay the bills.

Rebecca is asking Washington residents to sign a petition, urging the Governor to fund an existing state law that provides for paid family leave.

Click to watch video (opens in new window)

Click to watch video from KIRO TV (opens in new window)

Five states have paid family or disability leave programs funded through payroll premiums. New moms and babies are healthier in those states, and women are more likely to be working – and for higher wages – a year after childbirth than in states without paid parental leave.

Washington passed a Paid Family Leave Law in 2007, which was supposed to go into effect in 2009. But lawmakers didn’t approve funding, and then the recession hit. Paid Family Leave has taken a back seat to other issues ever since. This year, two Washington lawmakers introduced bills to fund the program, and to include leave to care for an elderly parent or other family member or the worker’s own serious illness. The bill passed the House Labor Committee and could be passed by the full legislature next January.

What will it take to make paid family leave a priority in Washington’s legislature?

EOI’s Policy Director Marilyn Watkins responds to KIRO reporter Siemny Kim: “Every time I see a pregnant woman, I get a little frustrated and mad that we don’t have that program operating yet. Lawmakers have to hear from the public.”

Via KiroTV.com

Terri’s story, or, why cancer really doesn’t care how responsible you are

terry cavillo 3

Terry Cavillo did everything right to protect herself financially. Her cancer didn’t care.

Terri did everything right. She and her husband raised three great children – now mostly grown. She was a loyal employee for 14 years and prepared for the future, buying into the short term disability plan her company offered and investing in a 401(k). She even decided it was time to get healthy and lost 30 lbs.

When her cancer diagnosis came, she had family support, a financial cushion, and the legal protection of the FMLA. But none of that proved quite enough to last through two years of treatment and three surgeries. Despite her years of hard work and responsible actions, one bout of seriously bad luck has left Terri worried about her family’s future.

In September 2013, after speaking with some co-workers, Terri became suspicious of symptoms she’d been having. She visited the doctor and after two biopsies learned she had cancer in both breasts. In October, Terri had a lumpectomy and eventually a double mastectomy. In total, Terri has needed to take 3 separate medical leaves from work to deal with her cancer

“It was the worst experience of my life” said Terri.

Terri has worked for a major retailer in Tacoma for 14 years. She felt lucky to have her job protected through the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act which covers employees in companies with 50 or more employees, who have worked with the same employer at least a year and for enough hours. She had also purchased short term disability insurance. This meant she would have some income to keep her family afloat while she recovered from surgery and have a job to go back to after the ordeal.

But disability insurance did not fully cover her wages—and it left her particularly short when she had to go back for a 2nd surgery. Coordinating all the paperwork with her medical team, HR department, and the separate disability plan provider also proved complicated. It never seemed like they were on her side.

“It was such a hassle that I didn’t need. I kept getting certified letters from the HR department saying they had not received the doctor’s letters… I’m the face of their company, I don’t call in sick unless I have a legitimate reason. I should be rewarded for being a decent employee.”

To add more stress, her health insurance did not fully cover medical expenses and bills began to pile up. With limited options, Terri decided to tap into her 401K. Despite spending most of her retirement savings, she still has unpaid medical bills that keep her and her family underwater. Even her strong family started feeling shaky. “Money problems are hard on a marriage” Terri says.

If Washington had enacted and funded family and medical leave insurance (HB 1273),Terri would have had stable income throughout her cancer treatments – without nearly exhausting her retirement account. Her husband could have taken leave to help care for her. She would have had less stress, meaning faster healing, better morale when she returned to work, and less strain on her family.

Terri’s story could be anyone’s experience. That’s why we all need family and medical leave insurance.

Equal Pay, Paid Sick/Safe Leave, FAMLI Act Legislative Update: April 1, 2015

Late yesterday, Senator Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, cancelled today’s meeting of the Washington Senate Commerce and Labor Committee which he chairs. Since today, April 1, is “cut-off”, that means that the equal pay, paid sick days, and minimum wage bills heard in committee on Monday are essentially dead for this year.

But all of this year’s bills can be reconsidered again, starting next January. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will be working hard in the meantime to be sure that all of our priorities are priorities for our legislators in 2016.

And you can help send them the message.

Women deserve equal pay whether they live in Spokane or Seattle, Yakima or Grays Harbor, Bellingham or Vancouver. Yet we heard in testimony Monday that employers across the state impose wage secrecy policies, so no one knows if some co-workers are getting paid more than others for the same work. And managers in high tech companies, grocery stores, and hospitals use their discretion – and assumptions about gender roles – to more often recommend men for promotion and assign them to higher paying departments. That is why we need to pass the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

We also know that everyone gets sick, but 1 million workers in Washington get no paid sick leave, and even more are discouraged from using the sick leave they’ve earned. Every day in every school district in our state, sick kids are waiting miserably at school because no adult in the family can leave work to pick them up. Children as young as 9 or 10 are missing school to stay home with their sick younger siblings because their mom can’t risk missing another day of work.

The Washington State Board of Health, in a comprehensive health impact review of House Bill 1356, establishing Paid Sick and Safe Leave, concluded: “Evidence indicates that HB 1356 has potential to improve financial security; decrease the transmission of communicable disease; improve health outcomes; and to decrease health disparities by income, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and geography.”

Meanwhile, with over 20 U.S. jurisdictions now requiring paid sick leave, including Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, we know that businesses thrive with healthier and more productive workers and more financially stable customers.

And we haven’t forgotten Family and Medical Leave Insurance, which “died” in the legislature a few weeks ago. No one should have to forego needed surgery or drag themselves back to work before they’ve fully healed because they don’t have enough paid leave. Our elders should have family surrounding them through serious illnesses and during their final weeks of life, whether they’re part of the 1% or the 99%.

Every baby born or adopted in our state deserves several months of uninterrupted, unstressed time with their parents while their little brains and bodies are developing most quickly. We know from states with universal paid family and medical leave programs already in place that babies and moms are healthier, both moms and dads take longer leaves from work, fewer families are forced to rely on public assistance, and more moms are employed and for higher pay a year following childbirth.

Equal pay, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave are all simple concepts that the vast majority of voters support – whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, whether they live in a big city or not. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will continue fighting for these policies.

Let your elected officials know that you will, too.

“Family leave should never be a matter of luck.” [VIDEO]

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, makes the case for family and medical leave insurance (House Bill 1273) to Washington state legislators (Jan. 29, 2015):

MW-testimony-HB-1273-screen

Click to watch video (opens to TVW website)

Full testimony:

“Good morning. I’m Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute.

It should never be a matter of luck whether a parent can afford to spend the first precious weeks and months of life with their newborn child.

It shouldn’t be a matter of luck whether someone can recover from surgery before dragging themselves back to work.

My mother died this past summer, one of Rep. Moeller’s constituents. She’d lived with breast cancer for 8 years, staying active and independent, then declined rapidly in her last month. My sister and I were fortunate to be able to take off work and nurse her at home. Our other 3 siblings were able to fly out for only a few days to see her one last time. If we hadn’t been there, mom would have had to spend her last weeks in a nursing facility. My father never could have done it on his own.

Caring for a dying parent shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Yet most workers only get a few days or weeks at most of paid leave.

5 states have provided disability and maternity leave insurance for all workers in their states for decades, and 3 of those states now have other forms of family leave as well.

Studies show these programs work:

  • Women in these 5 states are twice as likely to have paid leave after having a baby than women in other states, and they take longer leaves. Among women below 200% of the poverty level, use of paid leave tripled  in states with disability or family leave insurance.
  • New moms in these 5 states had fewer health complications and were more likely to return to work in the year following a birth and to have higher wages over time.
  • New fathers also take longer leaves – and that early bonding keeps them more involved in their children’s lives long term.
  • Researchers at the University of Washington estimate that the number of mothers and infants receiving TANF in Washington would decrease more than 13% with paid family and medical leave insurance.

With family and medical leave insurance, the state will save with elder care as well.

There’s nothing more important to our future than our children.  And building the health and economic security of our families will boost our whole state economy.

Please pass HB 1273. Thank you.”

Download/read Marilyn’s testimony here [PDF]

“What more could my wife and I have done to deserve time with our new child?” [VIDEO]

Patrick Williams, a soon-to-be dad, has a pointed question for Washington state legislators about whether they’ll take action on family and medical leave insurance (HB 1273):

patrick-williams-hb1273

Click to watch video (opens to TVW website)

Full text: “Good morning. My name is Patrick Williams. My wife, Caitlin, and I are eagerly awaiting the birth of our first child.

I met Caitlin in San Francisco, where I had my first real job after earning a degree in Computer Science from the University of Washington. Caitlin was attending Berkeley at the time, and she went on to get her Masters from Cal State.

We both pride ourselves in working hard, and making the most of our opportunities.

Two years ago, Caitlin and I moved from California to my home town of Seattle. We bought our first house, across the street from my parents. We’ve endured the endless “Everyone Loves Raymond” references, knowing that it was going to be a perfect place to raise kids.

When I was in San Francisco, coworkers regularly took time off  to take care of their spouses and newborns, using California’s paid family leave program. It made all the sense in the world. They weren’t going to be able to focus at work knowing that their loved ones needed them.

But now that we need family leave, we don’t have it.

Now this is no sob story. We’re going to be fine.

But given that both my brother and I were 10+ lbs babies, I suspect Caitlin’s going to need some recovery time. I worked through the holidays, and I’ve stopped taking days off sick, because how can I justify taking off time now, knowing that it means a day I don’t get to spend with my newborn later?

My question to you is this: What could I have done differently to deserve more time with my newborn?

Caitlin and I prioritized education, worked hard, bought a house, and got married. I’ve been so fortunate, and done everything “right”, and even I won’t get much time with my baby and caring for my wife if she has a rough delivery.

I can’t pretend to understand the political forces at work, preventing the benefits that everyone in California takes for granted from being available in the state I love so much.

I’m hoping you can help. Because not everyone gets this lucky, and we’re still scared.

Please, pass family and medical leave insurance now, so it’s available when we have our second child – and for all the other families in the state who are even more terrified about how they’ll cope than we are.

Thank you.”

Read Patrick’s full testimony here [PDF]

Paid Parental Leave: The Status of Women 50 Years Later

logoFifty years ago the President’s Commission on the Status of Women recommended that paid maternity leave be provided to improve conditions for working women. While the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was an important step in improving access to leave for new parents, the United States is still without a federal maternity or family leave statute. This month, the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor released a full paper series commemorating the 50th Anniversary of American Women: Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. As part of this series, the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) prepared a paper that reviews data on the benefits of paid parental leave from the perspectives of individuals, families, employers, and the economy overall.

The report found that paid family and medical leave programs can have significant benefits to individuals, to businesses, and communities.

Economic Benefits

  • Improved Labor Force Attachment:
    • Women who are offered paid leave are more likely to return to the labor force in the year after they give birth than women who are not offered paid leave. Additionally, paid leave has been shown to have a positive effect on post-birth work outcomes.
  • Costs and Benefits to Firms:
    • Paid leave leads to negligible costs to employers in terms of temporary employee replacement costs or overtime paid to existing employees and has much greater potential gains in terms of employee morale and productivity.
  • Expands Economic Growth:
    • Paid leave can lead to increased labor force participation, increased fertility rates, and reduced spending on public assistance. Family friendly policies can help push the economy towards gender equality in the labor force, therefore mitigating the effects of a shrinking, aging workforce and increasing GDP.

Health Benefits

  • Increases initiation and length of breastfeeding:
    • Breastfeeding can increase bonding between the child and nursing mother, stimulate positive neurological and psycho-social development, and strengthen a child’s immune system. Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the risk of health problems and disease.
  • Reduction in the risk for infant mortality
  • Increases well-baby care and vaccination rates
  • Improves mother’s emotional well-being and mental health
  • Maternity leave allows mothers to increase the quality of care given to her child and can help prevent postpartum depression and stress

Family benefits

  • Greater paternal engagement in caregiving:
    • Fathers who take time from work around childbirth are more likely to spend more time with their newborns, which could reduce stress on the family and contribute to father-infant bonding.

FMLA, which provides men and women with job-protected leave for a number of caregiving purposes, has provided many American workers with unpaid leave for moments when family had to come first. But the law falls short of what families really need: universal coverage and income.

To qualify for FMLA you must work for a company with at least 50 employees and have worked 1,250 hours in the past year. That means part-time workers and small business employees aren’t protected. And most working families can’t afford to take two months off of work without income forcing many to choose between caring for their family or providing for them.

According to the report, the U.S. is “the only high-income country, and one of only eight in the world, that does not mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns”. Moving forward, IWPR urges the U.S. to catch up to other developed nations and address today’s workforce realities for both mothers and fathers through more comprehensive legislation. A paid family leave and medical insurance law would help build a more productive workforce, promote economic competitiveness, and bring substantial health benefits to individuals, employers, and society.